General News

31 May, 2024

Clashes over CEO position

A “PROFESSIONAL associate” of Cairns Mayor Amy Eden – former Cairns Regional Council chief executive officer John Andrejic – returns to the top role today on an interim contract despite the council on Wednesday declaring she had a conflict of interest over the appointment.

By Nick Dalton

Clashes over CEO position - feature photo

Mr Andrejic, who quit in 2020, was chosen from a shortlist of four candidates (from 32 applicants) in a decision behind closed doors at a special meeting on Wednesday morning.

Despite a majority of councillors – Brett Moller, Rob Pyne, Kristy Vallely, Anna Middleton and Rhonda Coghlan – agreeing that the mayor had a conflict of interest, a few minutes later Cr Middleton changed sides and voted with councillors Brett Olds, Matthew Tickner, Cathy Zeiger and Trevor Tim to allow the mayor to  remain in the chambers to decide on the interim CEO role.

Councillors Moller, Pyne, Vallely and Coghlan voted against the motion. Cr Eden did not vote in either case.

After closed door debate, councillors returned to give Mr Andrejic the nod, with councillors Moller and Pyne voting against it. Prior to the decision, Cr Moller – a lawyer – provided a lengthy opinion about the conflict of interest.

The council’s legal advice was there was no conflict of interest. Cr Eden also responded at length to Cr Moller’s statement.

Cr Eden later said Mr Andrejic (above)  – “a professional associate” and trusted adviser  – was the best person for the job and would hit the ground running to tackle urgent issues such as the $472 million water security project and the 2024-25 budget. She also said the council would continue with a permanent CEO application process even though Mr Andrejic was considered  a front runner and expected to be given the position indefinitely. It pays between $400,000 to $499,999 a year. The interim role is initially for three months.

Cr Pyne said he believed Cr Eden had a conflict of interest and her relationship with Mr Andrejic was to the detriment of the other applicants. Cr Olds said all councillors took part in a phone call about the legal advice and also had the opportunity to informally speak to the final four candidates. He said it was “paramount” that the mayor and CEO had a good relationship.

Councillors Coghlan and Vallely said they had sleepless nights worrying about the conflict of interest situation. Cr Tickner said Mr Andrejic was “the best person for the role, the best person for ratepayers”. Cr Zeiger said the entire process was the “most inclusive and transparent” she had witnessed in nine years as a councillor.

Earlier Cr Moller raised concerns that the mayor, Cr Olds and Cr Zeiger held a meeting with Mr Andrejic on May 20, 2024 to discuss former CEO Mica Martin, who resigned on April 24. Cr Eden denied this was discussed. Cr Moller said Mr Andrejic was asked if he would be interested in the role to which he replied that he would be interested in taking a phone call. Cr Eden admitted Mr Andrejic was an unpaid volunteer during her election campaign, was one of three high level strategic advisers and she held several lunch meetings with him. She also  stayed or visited Mr Andrejic’s holiday house at Cardwell about five times.

Following is Cr Moller's opinion and Cr Eden's response.


In accordance with Section 150 EW of the Local Government Act 2009 Cr Moller raised a suspicion of a declarable conflict of interest against Mayor Eden in the recruitment of interim CEO due to her relationship with one of the candidates, Mr Andrejic.


Cr Brett Moller


Recruitment Process


  1. Mayor Eden, Cr Olds and Cr Zeiger have all disclosed (in a meeting with Councillors and Council’s legal advisor on the 20 May 2024), that a prior meeting organised by Mayor Eden was held by them with John Andrejic on the 20 March 2024. At that meeting the then CEO Mica Martin’s role was discussed with Mayor Eden, Cr Olds and Cr Zeiger seeking John’s advice around the recruitment process for a new CEO. Reportedly, John’s advice was to review Ms Martin’s contract and to seek the advice of the Director of People and Organisational Performance. That advice was subsequently acted on. In the course of the conversation, a question was asked John if he would be interested in coming back to Cairns Regional Council as CEO to which he advised John replied that he would be interested in taking a phone call.


The issue I seek Mayor Eden’s response to is:  why did she feel the need to arrange the meeting with John and does this give rise to any declarable conflict of interest by her, given that Mayor Eden, then nominated herself along with Cr Olds and Cr Zeiger to the Interview Panel in the recruitment of a new Interim CEO, with John now being one of the applicants.

Close Personal Relationship


  1. At the outset of the recruitment process Mayor Eden claimed that her relationship with John Andrejic was that he was a volunteer on her campaign team where he put in corflutes and handed out on polling day and that was the extent of the relationship.


  1. At the meeting on the 20th of May 2024, Mayor Eden made a Disclosure Statement, read by her in respect to her relationship with John, where she stated as follows:

  • “Mr Andrejic’s role was an unpaid volunteer.

  • Mr Andrejic was part of a group of 3 people that provided me with high level strategic advice and guidance in determining whether I would run for Mayor, and once that decision was made further high-level strategic advice throughout the campaign.

  • The group of 3 people were not involved in Team Eden's campaign and provided assistance individually to me only.

  • Mr Andrejic and I intermittently had lunch meetings in the city where high level strategic advice and guidance were provided. Our lunch meetings were not a secret - we mostly sat outside of the footpath dining area and greeted acquaintances as they passed by. Lunches were paid equally by both Mr Andrejic and I on a ‘take it in turns’ basis.

  • Lunch frequency was regular for the first half of 2023 and irregular for the second half of 2023. Noting Mr Andrejic finished work in the city June 2023.”


  1. During the course of the meeting (20/5/2024) Mayor Eden was asked if she had ever stayed at Mr Andrejic’ s holiday home in Cardwell to which she replied she stayed there in 2021 and she paid market value to stay there. Mr Andrejic was not there at the time. When asked how many times had she visited there, she responded that there were two further occasions where she visited the house to use the bathroom. She informed she did not have a key but a neighbour was able to provide such.


  1. Mayor Eden subsequent to the meeting of the 20th of May 2024 provided further Disclosure Addendums to the effect that the following visits to John’s Cardwell property were disclosed:-

  1. Holiday with children 23/9/2021;

  2. Holiday with children and children’s friends 25/1/2022;

  3. Holiday with female friend for a hike at Hinchinbrook Island 4/6/2022

  4. Use of John’s bathroom facilities 5/6/2022; and

  5. Use of John’s bathroom facilities 1/7/2023.

On all occasions Mr Andrejic was not present.


The issue I seek Mayor Edens response to is: with each disclosure her relationship real or perceived is becoming stronger in terms of involvement, from John being a volunteer who put in corflutes and handed out on election day, to then becoming a key strategic advisor in a group of 3 for Mayor personally and not Team Eden, from 1 holiday and 2 bathroom stops at John’s Cardwell property to 3 holidays and 2 bathroom stops. I suggest there is a ‘familiarity’ in the level of the relationship with a willingness to by-pass public facilities to visit John’s property that could give rise to the view that this is a close personal relationship.  


I refer to the guides that have been supplied to Councillors by both the organisation and the Department, where they provide indicators that Councillors should use to determine whether a close personal relationship with a person exists.


These indicators include (the below in italics is quoted directly from the relevant guidelines):


·         The person is a close friend or someone you might invite to family events

·         You regularly meet the person for social activities, or visit their house

·         Other people regularly see you together in public

·         You feel uneasy about making a decision that might be favourable or unfavourable to them


If after considering the above you are still unsure, this usually means you should notify of a declarable conflict of interest.


Further, the guideline instructs that when considering whether a Councillor’s participation is in the public interest, the below are valid reasons:


·         Will the Councillor’s involvement negatively affect the community’s trust in the decision?

·         Will the decision have a big impact on the related party?

·         Is the interest unique to the Councillor?

·         Is there a way the Councillor could influence the decision?

·         Is the potential benefit to the related party certain?

·         Is your decision consistent with other similar matters considered previously for other Councillors?


Remember, the test is not whether the Councillor is an honest and impartial person, but whether a reasonable and fair-minded person in the community could lose trust about whether the decision was made in the public’s interests.


On the basis of what has been raised, my view is that Councillors need to ensure they have thoroughly considered the conflict of interest issues in this process.


From a governance perspective and for open and transparent decision making and for residents to have the trust in our Council, my view is that these matters need to be dealt with on the floor of the chamber by the appropriate process.


Good governance should not only be practiced but should be seen to be being practiced by our Council so early in our new term, and I make no apology for ensuring the highest degree of integrity in this process, despite the discomfort it may cause and we as Councillors I believe will be judged by our residents on our integrity and ethical standards today.


Cr Eden response


What do I have to gain from the appointment of this candidate? Seriously, what personal interest do I have? We all want the same thing - I want what you want – and that is the best person for the job.


Do you know what I respect about today? Exactly what I hope we will continue in this chamber. Councillors are free to voice their opinions – as Cr Moller has, but we make decisions based on facts. And in this case, the facts are clear.


The use of an independent recruiter and legal experts have ensured the integrity and robustness of this recruitment process - every step of the way, including my involvement. And that’s why I can say to you, hand on heart – that I have no conflict of interest.


Every ‘t’ has been crossed and every ‘I’ has been dotted with my involvement. On top of that we engaged an independent recruiter, established a recruitment panel, provided multiple opportunities for all councillors to be involved in the process from workshopping the interview questions, reviewing the full list of applicants, to being part of the final interviews and all councillors asking their own questions of the applicants. The decision here today is a decision of council.


I would like to repeat what I have already shared with you because nothing has changed, and I have been as transparent as I possibly can be and the legal advice stands.


The basis of this conclusion is that:

Mr Andrejic’s role was an unpaid volunteer. 

Mr Andrejic was part of a group of 3 people that provided me with high level strategic advice and guidance in determining if I would run for mayor, and once that decision was made further high level strategic advice throughout the campaign. 


I asked all 3 people individually why they were providing advice and in their own unique ways they responded principally the same – for their love of this city. Their interest was for the public best interest.


The group of 3 people were not involved in Team Eden’s campaign and provided assistance individually to me only. Team Eden had its own campaign manager – Gary Kerr, who managed the campaign and all aspects of Team Eden’s campaign. 


I am also aware that Mr Andrejic provided high level advice to another candidate running for a divisional councillor position who was not part of Team Eden and who was not successfully elected. 


Mr Andrejic and I intermittently had lunch meetings in the city where high level strategic advice and guidance were provided. Our lunch meetings were not a secrete – we mostly sat outside on the footpath dining area. Lunches were paid for equally by both Mr Andrejic and I on a ‘take it in turns’ basis.


When I ran for mayor, I put everything on the line. I worked extremely hard to get into this position. The people of Cairns have entrusted me to do the right thing.


You won’t see it written in the Local Government Act, you won’t see it written in any textbooks, but as previously shared with you I went to the LGAQ Mayors forum a few weeks ago in Brisbane where we had presentations from numerous current and former mayors. The key message that came out was the key to success, the key to our collective success, the key to our councils’ success, is having the right CEO.


My only motivation as we work through this process is to get the right person as it’s the only way we’ll succeed. That person will be who it will be and I don’t intend to entrust my future and the future of this great city to anyone other than the right person  it’s too important. 


As you know, I am a qualified social worker. I am educated, trained and experienced in working within a practice framework coupled with a strong code of ethics. A core element of this framework is critical thinking. To be a critical thinker I have the ability to remain open-minded and unbiased while gathering and interpreting data. 


What’s in the best interest of Cairns is at the forefront of my thinking and decision making.


To that end, I have an open mind to all candidates. I assessed on merit, on the information provided because I want the best for Cairns.


Lunch frequency was regular for the first half of 2023 and irregular for the second half of 2023. Noting Mr Andrejic finished working in the city June 2023.


I stayed at Mr Andrejic’s Cardwell property on 3 occasions in 2021 and 2022, utilised the bathroom facilities twice and paid market value for the stays. Mr Andrejic was not at the property at these times.


When I came into the chamber today, I didn’t believe I had a conflict of interest and I still feel that way.


I then asked our legal expert have you heard anything at this meeting today that causes you to have any concerns with the advice you’ve provided to date?  And he responded unequivocally, no.


That’s not my opinion – this is the opinion of our legal experts. And that councillors, is what I want you to focus on; the legal advice was there is no conflict.


I appreciate this may have been heavy going, hard way to start the morning however I am confident we can all work together as a team and that’s what I am counting on over the next four years.


This appointment comes down to who has the best credentials to support the Council and our community. It’s as simple as that.


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